A 103-turbine Viking windfarm may still be able to produce as much power as the larger scheme originally proposed.
The loss of 24 turbines to meet concerns about interference with aircraft instruments around Scatsta Airport, ordered by the Scottish government when it approved the windfarm yesterday, follows a previous voluntary cut of 23 to address objectors’ concerns.
It reduces the windfarm’s rated output from 457MW to 370MW, using the 3.6MW Siemens machines that the application was based on. But the Viking Partnership has been given consent for 457MW and is expected to make up the shortfall by opting for a turbine with a higher power rating.
Viking has said for years that the maximum 145-metre blade tip height it was seeking permission for gave it headroom to accommodate potentially more powerful machines. The 3.6MW machine can be kept within a height of 132 metres.
Options in the range between four and five MW include a Vestas 4.5MW machine designed to withstand the stiffer test of offshore windfarms where salty air and high winds make conditions similar to Shetland’s hilltops.
Viking Energy Partnership chairman Bill Manson, who chairs the charitable trust, confirmed that upgrading the turbine power would be looked at. He said: “Scottish and Southern is continually evaluating turbines and we will piggyback on that. We will see what the available range is in due course and – a bit like buying a car – see who is offering the best price.” A decision will be taken within 9-10 months.
Asked about the upgrade, which would not require government approval, energy minister Fergus Ewing merely said more powerful turbines would make a larger contribution to Scotland’s renewable energy output.
Even at 370MW the windfarm would be viable, Viking believes, and justify the interconnector cable. According to the energy minister it would – at least in theory – power 175,112 homes when the wind blows.
The government put the cost of the project at £556 million, down considerably from previous Viking estimates of £707 million and up to £800 million. Five per cent of the cost will have to be found by the minority shareholder in the Viking partnership, Viking Wind. The company was set up by the four men who own Shetland Aerogenerators’ successful five-turbine windfarm at Burradale.
Viking said this week it would work on updating its projections for how much profit might be earned for the community from the trust’s 45 per cent stake. The government quoted an estimated £20 million a year plus £10 million in related income such as wages and contracts.
Viking’s previous projections of £23 million a year to the trust did not drop when the number of turbines fell from 150 to 127 because energy costs have been rising and turbine costs reducing.
The government expects the trust’s tax-free profits to be used for supporting community enterprises, community energy projects and skills and training.
The first giant wind turbine could be spinning in 2016 with all 103 in action a year later. That depends on the Viking Energy Partnership formally sanctioning the estimated £556 million investment – a momentous decision expected in 18 months to two years.
Viking project officer David Thomson said that from the first digger going in to the last digger coming out the windfarm was expected to take five years.
After decision day the partners will also have to lay down a multi-million pound deposit to order the turbines from the chosen manufacturer.
Activity will be seen on the ground from now on. In fact last week a small plane buzzed over the Central Mainland and Lerwick for days updating Viking’s archive of detailed aerial photos of the windfarm site.
There is major site investigation work to be done, starting this summer, including possibly digging trial pits. The investigations are expected to cost several millions of pounds.
The next two years is also needed for finalising connection and transmission charging, agreeing construction contracts, signing long-term trading deals for the electricity produced by the windfarm, arranging loans and sorting out the lucrative deals for crofters and landowners to use their land.
With the consent now in the bag Viking is in a stronger position to lobby the various agencies which control its destiny, including the UK government. The electricity regulator Ofgem is to cut transmission charges in Scotland but there is still a crucial battle to be continued to stop Highland and Islands-based power generators continuing to be penalised by high charges for sending electricity a long distance.
Mr Thomson said the charges facing Viking were still uncertain, which remained “a concern” for the partners with an obvious effect on profitability. However, their business case is based on worst-case scenario figures, he said.
Viking still has its long-standing connection agreement with National Grid which puts it in a queue to get the 600MW interconnector cable laid on the seabed in 2016.
SSE’s transmission subsidiary SHETL still has to apply for full planning permission for its large converter station in picturesque Upper Kergord, which it got outline permission for. An application is expected in the summer which will reveal what the controversial building looks like and how it is proposed to “hide” it from view.
SHETL already has permission for the positive/negative polarity DC cables and its mainland converter station.
Back in the office, the Viking Energy Partnership is already trawling through the small print of the energy minister’s consent offer to ensure there are no hidden problems among the 50 conditions. It will then prepare reports for its shareholders about funding for the next steps until decision day, which are expected to cost the partners another £14 million.
The requirement to get the charitable trust trustees to back spending their share – a further £6.3 million of trust funds – is a major hurdle to be cleared very soon. A report on the matter was withdrawn suddenly from last week’s trust meeting, apparently due to a lack of available trustees in Shetland.
The trust hopes to have a revised report in front of trustees “within the next few weeks”, according to Mr Manson, although it is not yet clear whether that means recalling the existing trustees before they cease to hold office at the council elections on 3rd May or waiting until afterwards when the 22 new councillors join the pro-Viking independent trustee Bobby Hunter and Anderson High School head Valerie Nicolson.
The partnership also plans to publish a programme of activity soon, outlining key stages in the process of financing, procurement and construction.
Confidence that the windfarm will now go ahead stems from various factors, not least the claim that no windfarm in the UK has failed to go ahead after gaining consent.
While Shetland has the bonus attraction for investors of strong winds and an expected exceptionally high windfarm efficiency of over 40 per cent it also carries higher risk of problems from the harsh weather and higher costs, particularly relating to construction and transmission.
Last week in his withdrawn report to the charitable trust its financial controller Jeff Goddard, who is close to the Viking project, was bold enough to state that consent meant that, barring anything unforeseen, the windfarm would be built.
Mr Manson did not disagree this week but said there was “still much to do” before the windfarm “becomes a certainty”.
There is some doubt as to whether the trust will still be involved as a partner by that stage or will take the money and get out – which could ultimately be around £140 million for its coffers if it hands on until the project is ready to go.